Friday, January 29, 2010

The Aaron Hill Dilemma

Baseball, once the simple and lyrical pastime responsible for lots of bad poetry and purple newspaper prose, is a complicated game in the 21st century. Fans like us are constantly at odds with what we see and think we know and what later proves true. The Blue Jays second baseman &mdash who wears number 2 &mdash is a walking example of this troubling dichotomy.

On the surface, Aaron Hill is awesome. Aaron Hill hits for power, plays hard, gets dirty, plays a fine second base and seems like an all-around affable dude. He rose through the system and excelled at the big league level; signing away his arbitration years and putting up huge numbers in his first healthy season back in the fold. On the surface, Aaron Hill is a no-brainer.

But, on the nuts and bolts side, trouble brews. Many advanced baseball watchers question his ability to get on base, his ability to maintain a somewhat astronomical home run rate. This was a main point of discussion when two bloggers met in this country's capital city. Over a few dozen pints of bitter, we (he and I, not his version of we) debated the anger of the stats community. So quick to discard a season like Hill's 2009 and so quick to point out the shortcomings in his game. Why isn't it enough that Aaron Hill fields like a demon, hits the ball (consistently) hard, and puts up pretty counting stats? We can't fans like us appreciate Hill for what he is, not what he lacks?

While the statty side of the game may seem cold and indifferent, there are legitimate concerns to address in Aaron Hill's game. An excellent piece on Baseball Analysts this week highlights one of his offense's shortcomings. Aaron Hill's strikeout rate combined with his low walk rate put him into some slightly scary company. How scary? Jeff Francoeur has nearly the identical profile. Walk rate at or below 5.5% (of PAs) with a strikeout rate close to 15%. I'm not going to lie to you - that ain't good. Guys like Francoeur don't make it too difficult to get them out, hopefully Aaron Hill and his frozen roping ways don't follow the same career path.

Another post, this one on Beyond the Box Score, increased my level of dread for Aaron Hill in the future. The BtB Brains created clusters based on batted ball profiles and examined the average wOBA of those in the cluster. Imagine my shock when I discovered Aaron Hill lands in the fringes cluster 7 (high line drive, high home run, high walk). The average wOBA in that section: .398. Hill's weighted on base average: .357. His walk rate is half of the rest of the guys around him. Does that bode well or portend doom? Shouldn't I be excited for Hill to land in such exclusive company?

It comes down to raw, naked belief. Do I believe Aaron Hill's walks will rise to match his other components, or will the ever-important batted ball numbers fall to match his paltry walk totals? Did we see the best season of Hill's career in 2009 or the first, gigantic steps towards his ascent to the truly elite of the game?

The chicken and egg scenario above may not move us to jersey purchases and franchise cornerstone titles, but it lends itself to bigger issues. Do we put too much emphasis on capital V Value and not enough on the kind of return on investment an exciting player like Hill delivers?

One thing is for sure: walk rates be damned, Aaron Hill is officially the Best Blue Jay and certainly the number one reason to watch this club in 2010. None of the questions raised here are worth lobbing toward anyone else on the roster. Hoping for Aaron Hill to make one more leap into the Outer Chutlosphere of 6/7 Win dudes is one thing, enjoying the barrel-chested greatness of his line drive barrage is another. Here's hoping they stay out of each other's way.

Reuters image courtesy of Daylife.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nightmares Fueled by Real Life

For no apparent reason today, I thought/daydreamed of the fateful day in June when Roy Halladay makes his return to Toronto. Specifically the video tribute and its aftermath. The build-up is pretty funny to think about: Jays PR staffer lisases with Phillies PR staffer, they fight to the death. Winner humbly approaches Halladay with the Jays desire to honor his legacy. Halladay glares, unblinking, for 348 seconds. PR staffer pees pants, waits for reply. Halladay relents, P.R. flak resigns and joins the Peace Corps.

My mind's eye kicked my tear ducts in the balls by presenting me with images of the actual scene. Imagine all the current Jays standing on the top step; applauding the former ace. The crowd, slowly rising to their feet as they realize what's going on. Half watching the screen, reliving moments of individual greatness that will live much longer that a handful of 80 wins seasons in the hearts of minds of those present.

The other half crane their necks as the reluctant star emerges from the alien visitor's dugout, doffing his hat and waving to the now-roaring crowd. The Phillies players, generally going about their business, stopp to appreciate their new ace and what he meant to his former home.

Then he'll sit back down in the dugout and the game will go on. And that will be it. It might end up worse if he gets a start in Toronto; no way is Roy Halladay breaking character to wave to the adoring throngs when his brain is consumed with the best places to throw a cutter to retire Vernon Wells.

Images courtesy of Reuters via Daylife and Texas Finn via Flickr.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Beg Your Pardon?

The prospect porn world is much like the real porn world, there's so much out there and most of it is glossy trash. I can't pretend to know the first thing about prospects &mdash the fool's gold to quality ratio is very, very high. Staying abreast of the risers and fallers in the low minors is a real slog, one I tend to ignore. The superlatives fly around without abandon, the heavily codified scoutspeak is tough for me to break down, mostly because I don't really care. But one sure way for me to sit up and take notice of a recent Jays draft pick is easy: compare him to my favorite player. Jake Marisnick, welcome to the fold. You're officially on my radar. First, from pgcrosschecker:
As a tall, athletic, righthanded-hitting outfielder, Marisnick has been compared favorably to former first-rounder Rocco Baldelli (Note: emphasis mine. Emphatically.).
Okay, you've got my attention. The last toolsy guy to rise in the Jays system was Alex Rios. I think I already forget how much fun/frustrating Rios could be. Alright, let's escalate the Prospect Porn shoot from missionary to reverse cowgirl, with a helping fluff from the exceedingly appropriately named Base Balls to the Wall:
Marisnick is a legit five-tool athlete with good power potential and a strong understanding of baseball, though I have read that his swing may need to be overhauled. He’s drawing Rocco Baldelli comps which is concerning considering Baldelli’s unwillingness to walk, but the upside is certainly there.
Hmmm, Rocco's patience is a bit of the concern. While there aren't any pro at bats to go on, early word was Marisnick's swing needed a full "rebuild". A progress which is, apparently, already under way.

From John "The Hammer" Sickels recent listicle ranking the Jays system, a comment surfaced from Doug Dirt of Red Minor on prospects discovering patience as they move through the system. In a word, it doesn't happen.
I looked at every batter from 1993-2008 with at least 1500 MLB at bats and a K/BB of 3.50 or worse in the major leagues. There were only 20 players who fit that bill. Only two of them were able to improve their K/BB from the minor leagues to the major...Rocco Baldelli went from 4.01 in the minors to 3.84 in the majors. The other 18 went in the opposite direction from the minors to the majors. Side note – Only 1 of those 20 players has a career OPS over .770 and it's Alfonso Soriano.
Now this comment was in regards to Aaron Ciba and his inability to control the zone in the minors. We can only hope and pray Jake Marisnick has better strike zone awareness than young Rocco; mostly to compensate for his lack of overt ethnicity. Here's hoping Jake rises through the system as fast as I rose upon first discovering this comparison.

Image courtesy of Max Preps

Friday, January 22, 2010

Coupla Fridays

Hooray! The week is over and here comes the weekend! (And, in my case, a trip to Ottawa for some frozen debauchery.) Want to ruin your weekend before it even begins? Consider this late addition to our Podunk Times series, a quote about ex-Mancrush Brett Cecil.
Growing up, Cecil rooted for the Yankees and watched players like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriquez.

A few years later, he is pitching against the very same players.
We really could've been something Brett.

Attendance Issues

An anonymous commenter came late to the attendance party I held a few weeks back. This commenter made an interesting suggestion:
What about looking at it in terms of the amount spent by each organization in relation to the number of spectators each team has at home games.
Interesting but I don't think there's a connection to make there. The correlation between winning and spending is weak enough, as is the connection between winning and attendance. Removing the common bond of "winning" should only complicate matters. If anything, fans are less likely to trek to see and expensive underperforming club over a predictably shitty team.

The ever-excellent DRays Bay published a series of three posts on attendance the zillion factors that influence it. They consider regional income among other things. One really interesting point/stat is Att+. Consider their definition:
Much like the statistic OPS+, Att+ (or "Attendance Plus") is a measure of how a team's attendance figure compared to the league average for that season. One-hundred is league average; scores lower than 100 are below league average and scores higher are above average
Cool stuff. For shits and giggles, the Jays average Att+ for the decade
is 83, or 17 percent below league average. Tied with the Twins, just behind the A's and Reds. Two of those teams made the playoffs on a semi-consistent basis. Don't believe them when they say this isn't a baseball town.

Awesome image courtesy of BlogTO contributor Jonathon Castellino

Thursday, January 21, 2010

El Nino and the Sea Change

For no real reason, I got to thinking about baseball's Flat Earth Society and their ever-growing hatred of stats. Hardly new ground, but a decent analog for the stats revolution crept into my head. The giving guy that I am, I thought I'd share.

At the risk of meandering around and pointlessly wasting your time, I suggest this: think about the weather. Think about how weather is forecasted and broadcasted. Consider this, from Wikipedia.
In the past, the human forecaster was responsible for generating the entire weather forecast based upon available observations. Today, human input is generally confined to choosing a model based on various parameters, such as model biases and performance. Using a consensus of forecast models, as well as ensemble members of the various models, can help reduce forecast error.
The stat nerds have taken over the ever important world of weather forecasting. The similarities exist between changes in weather reporting and sports reporting. Were the Dave Duvall's of the world lamenting the rise of mathematical modeling and increased accuracy, steadfastly staring at the sky and reading their barometers? Probably not.

Sorry to waste your time with that digression. Here, a gift to you, from me. Randy Ruiz's swinging strikes from a still-small-but-not-worthless chunk of at bats. Dude likes the down and away dirt.

Update: Wooo. Look how much more garish that graph is now. Fancy! Thoughts?

Image here!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Be Ruizy

A few follow-up thoughts on Randy Ruiz and his ball-crushing goodness. I agree with most of the commenters: why not just run him out there to see what happens? What are the chances he's worse in the field than Adam Lind? Will he be drunk? Is his vision impaired? No? Then he has a fighting chance against our hero Adam Lind.

As promised yesterday, I examined Randy Ruiz's plate coverage. While not as well-rounded as lefties Snider and Lind, Ruiz appears quite adept at taking the outside pitch the other way with power. Or, if you remember his goofy foul pole shot off Joba Chamberlain, inside-outing a tough pitch the complete opposite way.

Once again, we're looking at the horizontal position of the pitches Ruiz hit out of the park. At the bottom of the image is home plate, the top is the relative position it left the bat. 90 degrees is dead center, 45 is the right field pole. I've shown Randy Ruiz in an awesome pink uniform on the same side of the plate as you'd see him. Pitches on the left of the diagram are inside to Randy.

A few things to note or remember: red lines where fastballs, green change ups, blue sliders and the pink line is the Tim Wakefield knuckler he waited on and deposited into the left field seats. We see Ruiz doing all kinds of goofy stuff here: jumping on an outside change and pulling it to left. Sitting back on a change up and driving it to center. The bulk of the pitches ended up in the same area of the park, that he hit such a variety of pitches there is telling.

While not as revelatory as yesterday's findings (to me, anyway), this only cements to me that Randy Ruiz handles a mean bat. That either makes him a fine stop-gap for this youthful team or an important bench bat for a contender. With The Manager's blessing there is no reason he couldn't be both next year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Take it Ruizy

One thing I'm guilty of repeating ad nauseam is the old "don't believe anything you see in April or September". I still espouse this school of thought for my own good reasons. The level of competition is lowered as are the energy reserves and motivation levels of players, for a variety of reasons. When a handful of Jays regulars strung together impressive Septembers, hitting for power and padding their otherwise lackluster stats, I was skeptical. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hit many bombs in September but, under my intense scrutiny, neither man's accomplishments quite passed the smell test. Not that their home runs and power numbers came cheaply, I'm simply less than moved by their combined efforts.

I don't think I've given Randy Ruiz a fair shake. I downplayed his success as a free-swinger; running into errant fastballs. A basic one-trick pony. I was reluctant to devote the time for the type of "analysis" I did for EE and JoeBau as I didn't believe Ruiz warranted a second look. But when word of his raking in the DR broke and reader AndyMc requested I take a look, I figured I would. And am I glad I did. How wrong I was on Randy Ruiz.

Before I shower Randy Ruiz with effusive praise, let's remember a few important details: he strikes out. A lot. Which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but he strikes out a ton while only walking a little. Randy Ruiz hit home runs at an ungodly rate last year, sporting the highest home run per fly ball rate of any player with 100 PAs. That might be tough to sustain, considering his rate of 31.3% is 7% higher than JIMJAM Thome. The rest of the HR/FB list reads like a who's who of big time sluggers. Can Ruiz stay in their elite company? Let's get to the facts.

ScumbagHandFIPHR AllowedHR/9HR/FB
Jason BerkenR5.31191.4311.7
Tim WakefieldR4.58120.835.9
Manny DelcarmenR4.6250.756.4
Ryan PerryR4.5271.0210.4
Andy PettitteL4.15200.928.9
Tommy HunterR4.40131.048.3
Dan WheelerR4.48111.7212.2
Josh BeckettR3.63251.0612.8
A.J. BurnettR4.33251.0910.8
Joba ChamberlainR4.82211.2012.4

Uh, wow. Very, very few shitballers in that mix. Not a single shot off Jeremy Guthrie either!! Only Berken, Wheeler and Joba surrender homers at steady rate, though Josh Beckett coughed up a few in the second half of 2009 (five more in the second half over the first, in 30 fewer innings.) But the rest of the list is pretty legit. Tommy Hunter is a ground ball machine who turned in a decent 2009, Manny Delcarmen throws hard and keeps the ball in the park. Anybody who can put good wood to Tim Wakefield is either doing something right or something very, very wrong.

If I was to quickly don my skeptic's hat again, I'd see a lot of flamethrowers on this list and assume Ruiz saw a bunch of thigh-high fastballs from guys who didn't know enough about him yet. Guess what? I'd be dead wrong. Click to enlarge the image. It won't be the only thing getting bigger.

That, my friends, is impressive. A wide variety of pitches, thrown in every single zone imaginable. What the fungus is going on here!! Compare that to EE and Bautista's graphs. The difference is remarkable. Only two fastballs up and over the plate. Golfing sliders and driving change ups. Crazy.

Even crazier? Randy Ruiz's approach. Ruiz hits home runs no matter the count. In fact, five or Ruiz's ten home runs came in 0-1 counts. Get cheated on your own time bitches! He knocked two out of the park facing 2-2 counts, including an eight pitch battle with Tommy Hunter. Awesome stuff.

Want a little more boner fodder? Remember when I got all up in the pants about Travis Snider's plate coverage? Ruiz more than holds his own, but you'll have to wait for another day to see the proof. Trust me.

What does all this mean then? Randy Ruiz is some sort of hitting savant. There is NO reason he shouldn't see consistent at bats during a throw-away year like 2010. Worst case scenario, the league figures him out. The Jays scuttle him sooner rather than later to prevent AB deprivation among their future studs. Best case? He hits like a maniac all summer long, providing entertainment and perhaps a reasonable prospect at the deadline? He figures into the plans moving forward if he suddenly turns himself into a left field worth mentioning? His solid performance against right handed pitching all but eliminates him from platoon consideration, meaning that is exactly what will happen. Ruiz will grab a few at bats here and there while Bautista gets run out there 4 days a week. Ugh.

As always, praise to Brooks Baseball for pitch f/x data, Fangraphs for the pitcher numbers, Hit Tracker Online for all things tater tot. Reuters Image courtesy of Daylife.

Friday, January 15, 2010

This Should Smooth Things Over

Poor Jeremy Accardo. The Blue Jays own Disgruntled Goat himself, desperate to be free of The Manager's pwnership, now stares down the barrel of an arbitration hearing.

Seems Alex Anthopoulos isn't as arbitration-adverse as his predecessor. Not that he's looking to get into blood feuds with his employees over their relative value, but putting strict timelines on negotiations sure puts the specter of lawyers in the front of the players' minds.

These hearings often devolve into knock-down, drag out affairs. The team goes out of their way to paint players as either replaceable or downplay their contributions, especially when valuable counting stats are otherwise absent.

Which brings us to Angry Accardo. Jerked around to exploit his options and too ineffective to warrant high-leverage work; Accardo doesn't have much leg to stand on when standing before high-priced lawyer dudes.

It's a shame really. If only there was a market for league-average right handed relievers with decent but not great stuff and a history of injuries and battles with their manager.

Image courtesy of the Four Letter

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Travis Snider's Promising Plate Coverage

The good men at Mop Up Duty took time away from heroically combing baseball's archives to fly a few warning flags with regard to Travis Snider's inability to hit left handed pitching. Fair points, Snider struggles to put the bat on the ball against quality lefties, as is well documented. The Manager should make it his business to get Snider some reps against good lefties then leave him the fuck alone.

All is not lost for young Travis. As you've likely read here many times, I'm enamored with Snider's ability to take pitches the other way. That is, in my mind, the mark of both a powerful and skilled hitter. The example of Ryan Howard supplied by the MUD guys is an excellent one. Carlos Delgado is another. The ability of these hitters to stroke the ball to all fields with power is a rare one. While hitting a big league home run remains unfathomable accomplishment for a mortal like me, "anybody" can yank an inside fastball into the seats; especially if that's the only pitch you're looking for. Hitters like Snider and Lind are rare and valuable.

A post in the late fall on Baseball Analysts and later Fangraphs by the great Dave Allen showed the relationship between where a pitch is thrown and where it's hit. I loved Allen's graphic and wanted desperately to create one myself. While no R wizard, I scraped, scrapped, Excelled and Painted my way to something, I think. Behold Travis Snider's plate coverage and homer spray. (Click to enlarge, explainey notes below.)

So, what do we have here? We're looking from above and behind, the press box more or less. The plate at the bottom shows the position of the pitches in terms of inside or outside. Each point on the plate connects to the angle at which Snider sent his 9 homers of 2009 into the night sky. Home runs generally don't fly in arrow-straight lines. Pulled pitches tend to hook towards the right field corner in Travis's case, pitches driven away tend to slice towards the left field pole here.

I've positioned the burly Snider on the right side of the graphic to help reinforce the inside/outside and right field/left field aspect. The outfield wall is not to scale but I hope you get the point. The red pitches are fastballs, the blue are offspeed.

This diagram isn't without its flaws. The outside-most pitch looks as though it was pulled because of the angle of the line, but rest assured it ended up in the left field bullpen. If you follow the Baseball Analysts link above you'll see Carlos Pena's similar graph. A dead pull hitter, Pena hits pitches off the plate outside to right field. A feared slugger indeed, but maybe a little easier than Snider (after some more seasoning) to pitch to.

A few other notes on Snider's 9 bombs in 2009: He jumped on the first pitch 4 times and two 2-0 meatballs. Snider also (impressively, in my mind) hit homers in 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2 counts. Perhaps this is indicative of a poor approach by Snider, trying to hit home runs in tight counts. Maybe, but look at him. That is not the look of a man who should look to "spoil" pitches. That is a man more interested in soiling the pants of opposing pitchers and comely lasses in the bleachers alike.

So what do we think? Does this make sense at all? Does this excite you or does Snider's high strikeout total still give you reason to pause? Is there anything to the notion of "tough to pitch" to when you strike out more than 25% of the time? Should we discount 3 or his home runs because they came against legendary shitballers Jeremy Guthrie and Sergio Mitre? I appreciate your feedback.

Pitch FX data courtesy of Brooks Baseball. Home Run data courtesy of Hit Tracker Online. Images courtesy of here, here, and new Score buddies Food Court Lunch.

Forsaken Albino Warlord Still Capable of Occasional Pillage

It is slightly unfortunate that Lyle Overbay is all but done in Toronto. More unfortunate than his departure from Toronto is all of our belief that he's as good as gone before it's even happened. It says a lot about the expectations of corner infielders and the search for the Next Big Thing when Jays watchers excitedly hope for Randy Ruiz and Brian Dopriak to get their chance at the expense of Overbay.

Lyle Overbay isn't just the Centralia Washington resident most frequently seen on TV (a fact I wish I made up), he's also a damn fine ballplayer. Unfortunately, he isn't fine enough at a position that demands eye-popping numbers. His .838 OPS is good on the surface, but trails nearly all other AL first basemen. His home runs, while lengthy with enough girth to satisfy, don't come frequently enough. His defense, like most first baseman, looks great on TV but doesn't hold up to the sober scrutiny of UZR and the like.

With a move inevitable, what are some possible landing spots for Lyle? Given the gentle nudge issued by the Commish and PA, maybe the Marlins have a need for a left handed power-with-a-small-P bat to offset Sassy Senior Jorge Cantu's poor splits and rampant dicknosery. Maybe the Braves need a first baseman? All options I'm sure Anthopoulos and friends have pursued.

Overbay figures to be on the move because he crushes right-handed pitching, plays average defense, and makes a reasonable wage over for the next year. As I said above, it's something of a shame as Overbay's a guy I enjoy watching. If he's standing on first base hitting leadoff fourth sixth eighth platooning somewhere on Opening Day in Toronto, that's okay too.

Image courtesy of Giantbomb

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The More Things Change

One year ago today, I celebrated one year of GROF goodness. That post leads with the rumors/whispers connecting the Jays with then disgruntled former Jay farmhand Michael Young. So here we are today, on the second anniversary of Ghostrunner on First, listening to more whispers and innuendo around a different former player.

Fortunately for all in involved, The Player in question isn't a spilled milk ex-prospect but one of the true faces of the franchise. Might the Jays make a nostalgia play for greatest slugger the team has known? At the risk of stunting the growth of certain prospects, yes.

First things first, no matter who AA brings in to flesh out the roster, ain't nobody taking at bats away from Adam Lind. He is as entrenched as it gets. He's no prospect; he's an every-dayer in The Manager's eyes. Second; while some commenters and bloggers alike worry about impeding the progress of legit blue chippers like Wallace and Snider, others rightfully point to Ruiz and Dopriak as stop-gaps all the same. Who cares if Randy Ruiz's progress is halted, he's Randy Ruiz. Do you have an emotional investment in Ruiz? Probably not. But I'll be damn surprised if you don't have at the very least fond feelings towards Delgado.

Another angle: maybe a glut of first basemen doesn't impact Wallace at all. As I've said before, perhaps the jury is not yet out on his potential as a third baseman. Taking at bats away from EE is hardly damaging and could end up a blessing.

Because the money will be manageable, and because controlling service time is right at the forefront of the new front office's mind, I don't think this is a bad thing at all. Which of course means it won't happen. Why can't we have nice things?

Thanks to Bill Kralovec for the image and every single person who reads, comments, emails, ignores, hates, enjoys, subscribes, dismisses, or even pretends to care about what they read here. I owe you all more than you know.

Monday, January 11, 2010

High Ceiling Deathmatch

The Blue Jays glut of pitching prospects, inning eaters, and AAAA roster filler gives rise to a very specific type of prospect porn. Where once there was rosterbation there is now auto-rotative arousal. The only thing longer than the boners of auto-rotational arousers is the list of potential starting pitchers for the Jays in 2010 and beyond. Morrow! Drabek! Chapman! McGowanCumPurMilRayLitMondet! It is a nice problem to have, and a lot of fun to image what happens if and when half these guys come of age. Two names from 2009 seem to split the opinions of Jays watchers: Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero.

Romero picked up some early Rookie of the Year buzz thanks to impressive months of June and July. Sadly he tired and struggled as the season wore on, posting much uglier numbers than I realized. 1.52 WHIP, 4 walks per 9 innings. While some pencil Ricky Roma in as the Opening Day starter, others (myself included) aren't so sure.

Brett Cecil rushed his way to the majors on the back of his excellent minor league lines. While in the big show he had some good starts and some very bad ones. He ended up with similar numbers to Romero in some respects; slightly better K/BB though fewer Ks. A worse WHIP with too many home runs surrendered. But how to they stack up? Who will be the better pitcher in 2010? 2011? The not-too-distant future in which the machines are self-aware but peaceful? Why don't we take a look see at what the bring to the table, pitchwise? I grabbed the data for three strong starts each. First: spin-deflection also known as break. Click to enlarge, full explanation below.

A couple things stand out to me: Ricky Romero's change up IS that good. It's usually the first thing people discuss when they break RR down and with good reason. Cecil's slider seems to clump up nicely, a good sign in terms of command me thinks. We can see another large cluster of black around -8 inches, representing Cecil's two seam fastball. He throws it often and with some success. Perhaps the two-seamer could emerge as the pitch to bolster his slightly lackluster ground ball numbers. In this admittedly small sample (three starts), Cecil induced nearly 40% of his grounders with the two seamer.

Romero gets a fuck ton of ground balls in his own way, mostly by pounding the zone with his fastball. One can only assume Romero's ability to change speeds forces a lot of roll overs and ground outs.

The erratic nature of both curves suggests these guys shouldn't really throw curveballs. Romero relies on his fastball and change up with a couple curves, sliders, and mixed-grip fastballs tossed in to keep hitters honest. Cecil is four seamer, two seamer and slider; with a pretty bad curve and occasional change up for good measure. How about a closer look?

Ahh, the spin versus velocity graph reveals all. Lots of fastballs and changeups from Romero, more variety from Cecil. Cecil's inability to throw his curveball consistently really shows here also. The angle & direction on which the ball spins sure goes a long way to tell us how and where it will break. Cecil's is all over the place, so is his curveball.

So what does this all mean? By my eye they seem to have pretty similar stuff. Each man reaches the mid-nineties with his fastball and offsets it with a good secondary pitch. Both guys need to throw more strikes and keep the ball in the park better. As for the future, well, deep exhale.

Not to go all intangibles on you here, but Ricky Romero scares me. One too many times I saw him staring into the dugout like a frightened rabbit looking for The Manager to come and rescue him. And that's not good. Brett Cecil has the reputation of a bulldog, a former closer with the swagger you like to see and desire to achieve. When I consider that he's two years younger than Romero and flew through the minors, I think he's only going to get better.

Romero struggled throughout his minor league career with make-up issues and the inability to trust his stuff. I don't know if that will haunt him forever, but when I watch him on the mound it informs my opinion of him. His shoulders slump forward and that's it for Ricky. Cecil showed the same vulnerability in Boston last year, a brutal start he basically quit on. But from what I see (and truthful, what I want to see) he wants to get better and perform. That's all well and good for a marginally talented player, but Cecil has the body and arsenal of a guy made to do this.

Brett Cecil serves as a good example of why teams aggressively promote some players while holding others back. In the lower minors he could get guys out simply by locating his fastball or throwing strikes with his slider. He still needs to learn to pitch, something Ricky Romero spent the extra seasons in the minors doing.

So yeah, I'm bullish on Cecil. I think he'll be a rotation mainstay for years to come, not just because I gave him a cool nickname. Which isn't to say I'm down on Romero or think poorly of him. When all is said and done, I feel Cecil will be the better player, it might even happen this season. No amount of time in the bullpen or working with The Manager can teach Romero what he already knows. Maybe he will take a big step this season. Develop his curveball further and become the Johan Santana clone he might just be. Which, I don't need to tell you, would be awesome.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia, Pitch F/X data courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sometimes, Always, Never

Getting riled up by or dragged into an argument deep inside the Drunk Jays Fans comment section is never a good idea. Trolls live large and the regulars battle with the hosts on a daily basis. Reading yesterday and last night about the suddenly-polarizing figure of Alex Anthopoulos, I was mildly surprised but mostly annoyed. Praising AA as a prodigy poised to save the world is wishful thinking contrasted by those who seek to slam him and the mysterious Rogers board for the awful power they wield over the Blue Jays doesn't do much for me either. It made me think two, separate-yet-related thoughts.

Firstly, getting fired up over the acquisition of Brian Bocock is insane. Insane but understandable in our internet age. Back in the day, a move like this might register an entry in the transaction record printed towards the back of the sports section. No comment, just BLUE JAYS SIGN BRIAN BOCOCK TO MINOR LEAGUE DEAL. Instead, the good men of DFJ post the news with a flippant comment that boils down to "probably nothing, best case scenario he's the next Johnny Mac." This nothing roster-filling depth move sparks a flurry of debate and righteous anger among people that seem to agonize over the organizational minutia. Let me tell you, none of it is worth the energy.

Secondly, the doom and gloom squad view this as sign of the Jays continuing inability to acquire a major-league ready player at no cost. This leads to either cries of puppet regime, apologists, and Wilner-worship. All of which are wrong. If you really think signing Jason Bay and John Lackey gives the Jays the talent to compete with the Yankees for the division or the Red Sox for the Wild Card in 2010, you're misguided. If you think you can just open your wallet and a contender is sure to follow, you're misinformed and under-educated. Sorry.

To those patiently waiting for Anthopoulos's masterplan to fall into place while bemoaning 7 years of J.P.'s incompetence (they finally have a plan!), take heed. Consider, once again, the 2006 Jays.

J.P. shed some costly and ineffective contracts and sat poised with controllable homegrown talent all over the diamond. Three outfielders from within the system (Ash picks) all making better than 3 WAR contributions with a cheap pickup tossing in consistent 2 wins of his own, a hot young second baseman ready to take over for the arb-eligible vet who was moved to fill a hole at third base. The outfield glut afforded dumping a "can't miss bat" in Gabe Gross for a patient/slugging first base doubles machine. Two cheap young system arms in the rotation (Chacin & Towers) and a stable middle of the bullpen.

So Rogers opened the bank and the team added another top of the rotation starter and name closer to solidify the backend of the pen. They took on substantial salary in acquiring the slugging third baseman and took their shot. The result?

One of the top three offenses in baseball. One of the top three defenses in baseball. A middle of the road pitching staff. 87 wins. Which might have been okay had the Detroit Tigers not added 25 wins to their 2005 total.

The point? Shit happens. The best laid plans go awry. Is Anthopoulos on the right track? I think so, but we've been down this road before. The "sign free agents to flesh out the cheap/excellent core" route is wrought with potholes as well. Sometimes you sign a closer for two years too long, even though he goes off and gives you a 3 win season out of the gate. Sometimes you get swept by the Rockies and Marlins and don't realize how much it hurt your season. No matter how strong you think the foundation is, shit happens.

Images courtesy of Liza Lee Miller and Tireball

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Tyranny of What We Already Know

It goes against everything I stand for to post this now. Giving the indignant gasbags who beat their chest with pride at their own willingness to look beyond stats to find the true Hall of Famers the attention they crave is a mistake on my part. The harder the internet intelligentsia pushes them, the more likely the more antiquated BBWAA members will dig in. The same people that crow over their integrity in keeping Roger Maris out of the Hall because it "takes a full body of work" while heaping votes on a guy that pitched one massive, memorable game once in a very big spot. Was Jack Morris's Game 7 performance exceptional? Of course. Does one game make him more worthy than better performers subjected to different circumstances? Of course not.

When you create or abide so-called mythical standards or numbers such as 300 wins, 300 saves or 500 home runs, guess what? You're a stats guy. Those are stats. Just because wins and saves are easy to count doesn't make them any less staty. Just because you already know how to allocate them doesn't make them any less esoteric.

Stop me if I sound crazy: pull an alien or Australian or veal-calf onto a baseball diamond and teach them the game. How to play it, that is. Then sit them at a desk. You teach them the rules that govern wins, losses, and saves. I'll teach them the value of strikeouts, the qualities of good pitchers. Which one will make sense first?

Votes cast for Jack Morris: 282. Votes cast for Lee Smith: 255. Votes cast for Edgar Martinez: 195. Votes cast for Tim Raines: 164. Votes cast for Bert Blyleven: 5 too few.

Of these guys, who would you pick first to help your team win baseball games? By WATCHING them, as some writers love to discuss, Tim Raines from 82-87 would have to be first. Bert Blyleven would have to be second, Lee Smith a distant eleventeenth. Who spent more time on the field helping his team win: a specialist like Smith or a specialist like Martinez? Whose contributions to the outcome of one game, one season, over one career carry the most weight?

The type of stats doesn't matter, especially if the difference are between "tried-and-true" and "the kind that make sense." As Rob at Walkoff Walk pointed out yesterday, looking at past Cy Young or MVP votes isn't research, it isn't weighting the impact of a player's career, it is repeating the same mistakes over and again. This does no justice to the players you're attempting to honor or the sanctity of the Hall you're so determined to protect.

Character Assassination

It wasn't too long ago I attempted to kill the credibility of everyone's favorite cannon armed utility outfielder. Jose Baustista's month of September looks good on the surface but doesn't inspire heaps of hope when we look at who he victimized. With Edwin Encarnacion's name exploding into the news (!!!) I thought I'd give old E5 a similar treatment. Let's take a look at the pitchers E5 rode out in September. I included a home run he hit off Mariano Rivera in August because any time you can take Mo deep, it is cause for celebration.

Note: League average HR/9 is 1.04, HR/FB is around 10.

ScumbagHandFIP HR AllowedHR/9HR/FB
Jeremy GuthrieR5.31351.5810.9
Jason BerkenR5.31191.4311.7
Mark HendricksonL4.92161.3710.7
Danys BaezR4.5681.0013.8
David PriceL4.59171.1910.7
Sergio MitreR5.30101.7421.7!
Justin VerlanderR2.80200.758.2
Mariano RiveraR2.8970.9515.2

Poor Jeremy Guthrie. So shitty, yet so terrible. Jeremy Guthrie's propensity for serving up cookies fuels the persistent rumors of a possible trade to Keebler for a Tollhouse to be named later.

Clearly Edwin liked what he saw from the crappy Orioles pitching staff in 2009. Jason Berken will be good one day but that day is yet to arrive. Mark Hendrickson ranks as one of the worst pitchers to continually hold down a job in baseball history.

David Price will also figure out how to get bums like EE out at the big league level sooner rather than later, but he struggled with his control and command in 2009. Poor Sergio Mitre is bad enough without Joe Girardi throwing him to the wolves as he did in this particular start. The Jays knocked Mitre around for 5 merciless innings, surrendering 7 runs (4 tater tots!) while Joe G rested his beleaguered 'pen.

While Mitre, Berken, and Price may serve as the "case in point" when I express skepticism over inflated September numbers, the next two on this list are legit. The real effing deal. Taking Justin Verlander deep is reason to puff out the chest, strut around ignite low-grade ordnances in or around your visage. Doubly so for Mo; though he did serve up a few more flat cutters in 2009 than anyone's come to expect (his 15.7% HR/FB rate is way up from a career mark of 6.6%.)

To refresh: the green box is the strike zone and the blue dots are the pitches Encarnacion hit out of the park in September. The squared pitches are curveballs, the circled pitch is a cutter Mo left up and out over the plate.

What else we got here? The two curves came courtesy of Justin Verlander and Jason Berken. Verlander threw EE a first pitch curveball for a strike then tried to sneak another one past him. Encarnacion took him deep. Berken offered a curve in a 1-1 count after missing with a slider and throwing a good fastball down in the zone. Everything else was a fastball, most early in the count. Three first pitch homers, two at 0-1, one 1-0 and a 2-0 treat from Hendrickson.

In fact the two noteworthy homeruns off decent hurlers both came in 0-1 counts. What does that mean? I don't know, but I'll give the man (The Player?) all the credit in the world for sticking with a Verlander curve and jacking a Rivera cutter. The rest? Meh. I think that collection of bums and kids speaks for itself.

Which isn't to say the only home runs that count are sliders on the black expertly knocked the other way, but there isn't much here that suggests Edwin will continue his torrid finish to 2009 when the level of opposition rises again. Can we put him down for 12 or 15 next year? Probably, but once word around the American league gets out about his love of early fastballs over the plate, he isn't likely to see too many more.

Thanks to Baseball Reference, Hit Tracker, and Fangraphs for all the juicy informations and Getty Images via Daylife for the image.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Artists Depiction (From Afar) of the Golden City

If you've followed Ghostrunner on First this offseason, you're familiar my Rushmore; the contention that a full building doesn't come part and parcel with winning or competitive team, especially in Toronto. Stopping just short of saving Latin, I examined the relationship between winning percentage and attendance; specifically percentage of seats sold. Later I tried to screw down and add some detail, looking for trends or relationships. One complaint was the year-end numbers didn't offer enough context, that meaningless wins in at the end of the year padded the attendance numbers.

Never one to shy away from blowing off work, I took it upon myself to get into that nitty gritty detail. I looked at three different Jays seasons (2006, 2008, 2009) and how the attendance reflected the team's standing. I also looked at the 2009 Colorado Rockies as something of a control - their fanbase generally has better things to do than watch a shitty baseball team. Charts ahoy! Click to enlarge as always, we'll start with the 2009 Jays.

Just so we're clear: the blue line represents attendance for Jays home games, the red line is their number of games out of the division lead on that day. The purple trendline tracks overall attendance for the season. The 2009 season went into the toilet in June yet the attendance more or less held steady as the year went on, with a late push making the September sales swoon look a little better. Interesting, let's compare 2008 and 2006 and see how they shake out.

Striking. In both seasons we see the attendance trend distinctly upward as the team slipped further and further out of contention. Other than dates hosting the Sox and Yankees, the day of the week weighs much heavier on the potential attendance than the actual performance of the team.

Other attendance thoughts? While every peanut gallery columnist crowed about the low turnout against the Twins this past Labour Day weekend, one quick glance at the 2008 chart shows a very similar dip at the same point of the season. The opponent and dates? A midweek series against the Twins on the heels of Labour Day. Could it be people in Toronto &mdash just like people in Minnesota &mdash don't give a shit about the Twins? Or perhaps the first week of school isn't an ideal time for baseball? Perhaps a very large percentage of Jays fans buy their tickets well in advance with no guarantees of seeing a competitive club?

For shits and giggles, I took a team with a historically fairweather fanbase (from this chart) and tracked a recent successful season. The 2009 Rockies roared into the National League Wildcard via an excellent second half. Did the fans respond?

Predicable and reliable. The team contended, the fans attended. That's been their MO over the years. The Jays fanbase is a little steadier, more loyal. Smaller but loyal. The contention that 2010 stands to test the faith of the Jays fanbase has truth in it, but we've proved we'll come out through thick and thin. Predictions of skinniness aside, the feeling of hope heading into 2010 and beyond should excite both the hardcores and casuals alike.

All data courtesy of Baseball Reference.